A Critical History of Children's Literature: A Survey of Children's Books in English from Earliest Times to the Present

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Meigs, Cornelia
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I had decided not to include this book in the collection when I took another look at its four references to fables. While the chief emphasis on Caxton is his transmission of Arthurian material by Malory, there is a valuable reflection here on Caxton's Aesop (33-34). Finally, he did give to the English world and its posterity perhaps the oldest and the most widely beloved of the ancient classics. People have long read 'Aesop' who could not read the 'Aeneid' (34). I had not known, by the way, that Caxton finished the last of his translations the day before he died. On 89-90 there is valuable material on Lady Eleanor Fenn and on William Godwin. Fenn's sense of fable is presented with a good edge. Fables are stories to teach children what they should do, 'by showing them what may happen to them if they do not act as they ought to do' (89). I am happy to see something here about Godwin, who used the pen-name Edward Baldwin. He married Mary Wollstonecraft and set up with her a small publishing company which brought out children's books, including Edward Baldwin's Fables, Ancient and Modern. Charles Lamb, whose works the two published, said of Godwin, A middle sized man, both in stature and understanding (90)! The Lambs--but not necessarily the Godwins--stood up against the Age of Admonition in their literature for children. Isaiah Thomas of Worcester and Boston and Hugh Gaine of New York are discussed on 132 as following the lead of London's John Newbery. Mention is made here of Fables in Verse with the Conversations of Beasts and Birds by Woglog the Great Giant, which were published around 1762. Gay's fables are mentioned on 156 as written ostensibly for the six-year-old Duke of Cumberland. But satire rather than moral teaching is the burden of these fables, and their language is aimed more at parents than at children. They are keener and more ungentle than the kindly tales of Aesop, while the vehicle of long-drawn-out rhyme is much less effective than the old homely prose (156).
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